"St. John The Gambler" as written by and Van Zandt....
When she had twenty years she turned to her mother
Saying Mother, I know that you'll grieve
But I've given my soul to St John the gambler
Tomorrow comes time leave
For the hills cannot hold back my sorrow forever
And dead men lay deep 'round the door
Of the only salvation that's mine for the asking
So mother, think on me no more

Winter held high round the mountains breast
And the cold of a thousand snows
Lay heaped upon the forests leaf
But she dressed in calico
For a gambler likes his women fancy
Fancy she would be
And the fire of her longing would keep way the cold
And her dress was a sight to see

But the road was long beneath the feet
She followed her frozen breath
In search of a certain St John the gambler
Stumbling to her death
She heard his laughter right down from the mountains
And danced with her mothers tears
To a funeral drawn a calico
'neath the cross of twenty years

To a funeral drawn a calico
'neath the cross of twenty years


Lyrics submitted by p52, edited by stellasdaddy, ximo

"St John The Gambler" as written by John Townes Van Zandt

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St. John The Gambler song meanings
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  • +1
    My InterpretationWho knows what Townes Van Zandt was thinking of when he wrote this song; one thing is for certain though; when he is described as having a Shakespearian influence, this song is a good example of where it lies, in its entire poetic structure and the way it flows so easily through the phrasing. Van Zandt himself said that every song he wrote had to be perfect – this is a good example of that.

    “And dead men lay deep 'round the door, of the only salvation that's mine for the asking…”

    I think this lyric spells out the danger and ultimate tragedy ahead. It appears to be saying; “many have tried before and failed but there is no other choice”, or “the only thing that will save me is to follow my heart, even if it frighten me”.
    I’ve studied every word in this song and what it presents to me is the archetypal image of youth leaving their roots to find themselves, and in this case, the path chosen is that of risk; St. John the Gambler , as opposed to John the Baptist, perhaps. A choice between good and evil, god and the devil, taking a gamble instead of choosing blind faith, and which seems to sit so poignantly with the way Van Zandt lived his own life.

    But who knows what it means for certain, it’s just my guess, and as Willie Nelson says about another of Van Zandt’s songs; Pancho and Lefty, you kind of decide for yourself what it means anyway.

    Whatever it means, it is one of my personal favourites of Van Zandt’s and has also taught me a lot about the art of song writing.
    stellasdaddyon November 30, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSuch a beautiful, sad song. One of the quintessential Townes ballads. I don't get the last line, though, and think maybe it's "To a funeral drone, a calico, 'neath a cross of twenty years." As in a droning dirge, the sound of mourning. And the calico part just means she is in her dress is below the cross.
    laurajion January 23, 2013   Link

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